Archive for June, 2015

Murdoch Moloch

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

We may not actually be sacrificing children to Rupert Murdoch and the like, but I think there is a good case to be made that we are sacrificing our culture to him and a few others, with “5 billionaires owning 80% of the media” as the protesters at’Occupy Murdoch‘ pointed out.

Of course this is not unique to the UK, although the spectacular increase in inequality we have seen here over the past 35 years  (a particularly steep rise from 1979-1991, with a slower growth until a slight hiccough in 2008 from which it has now recovered) have transformed us into one of the most unequal societies among the wealthier countries.

I grew up in a period where our society was much more equal, and a welfare state provided at least a basic support for those on low incomes or out of work, and government saw its role as supporting the people who needed it rather than penalising them.

It’s The Sun Wot Won It” was the triumphant headline after the 1992 election victory of John Major, having ended a long campaign of putting the boot into Labour with the election day headline “If Kinnock wins today will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.” And equally, at the next election, it was again the Sun who claimed the the role of king-maker for Tony Blair, having managed to turn the Labour party into a vehicle for its own political views.

Of course it wasn’t just The Sun. There was also The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Express, The Daily Mail… all together setting a cultural and political agenda, increasingly helped by the BBC as well as commercial broadcasters largely owned by the same small group of people as the newspapers.

But while I have a great deal of sympathy and agreement with the case that ‘Occupy Rupert Murdoch’ were making, it wasn’t an easy event to photograph, not least because the the fairly low level of support actually on the ground. Starting a protest at 10.30am on a Monday morning is probably not a good idea to attract large numbers of politically active people, most of whom, contrary to the myths put about by the press, actually have jobs to go to. So while many expressed support, most were unable to be there. Though there was a rather fine main banner with a portrait of Murdoch, and a rather less promising Sun. Along with a very well drawn large cartoon and an impressive four page newspaper, ‘The Occupied Sun’.

By the time that the marchers set off on the short walk to present the people’s warrant for the arrest of Rupert Murdoch (listing just a few of his areas of offending – war crimes, phone hacking, political blackmail, tax avoidance and environmental destruction) there was a small but respectable group, although the warrant was a little disappointing for photographers, a replacement having to be drawn up on the spot with a whiteboard pen on a large brown sheet of corrugated cardboard as the more carefully prepared version failed to arrive on time due to travel problems. But it was handed over to one of Murdoch’s employees who – perhaps rather sportingly – came out to receive it at a remarkably civilised ceremony, shaking hands with the organiser, environmental campaigner Donnachadh McCarthy, though keeping his gloves on to do so. There was a cold wind.

It was an event where it was difficult to anticipate exactly what would happen, and where there were around as many photographers as protesters. As the group carrying the arrest warrant made their way towards the barrier outside the News International building I left the group of photographers crowding around them and tried to envisage where the handover would take place and chose exactly where to stand to get the picture I wanted. It seemed important to get the ‘News’ sign in the image. As the rest of the press gathered around, I had to move in a little closer to keep them out of the frame, and also zoom in slightly from 16mm to 20mm, but essentially was able to take the image I wanted.

After the delivery of the warrant, the group moved to occupy a part of the plaza in front of News International, though some temporary building works blocked its view of the door. I was rather taken by surprise when Donnachadh picked up a token tent and it sprang out, but caught the moment if not in a very well-composed fashion. I had rather ‘taken my eye off the ball’ photographing and talking with some of the other protesters.

The protest was to last for a whole week, and much of the time when I dropped by there was very little happening, and I didn’t always stop to take pictures. Things got busy every evening, with various events and more people arriving after work but I had other things to do and couldn’t stay, but I promised to come back on Saturday for the mock trial of Murdoch.

More pictures at Arrest Warrant for Rupert Murdoch and Occupy Rupert Murdoch. I’ll perhaps write about the trial later.


April at Last

Monday, June 8th, 2015

The arrest of Class War’s candidate for Chingford, Lisa Mckenzie

A little behind the time (as usual) I have at last finished upload my pictures from April 2015 on to My London Dairy.

April may only have 30 days, but it was a long month for me, with 45 stories on My London Diary and getting it all on-line has certainly dragged out. And out. Partly it was extra busy because of the coming election, and also I’m still feeling a sense of despondency over the election result which has made it hard at times to get down to work. Not that I think for a moment life would have been entirely rosy under a Labour majority or minority government, but that it would certainly have been a little more promising.

As we move to celebrating (perhaps incorrectly) the signing of Magna Carta as a milestone if not the foundation of democracy, it’s ironic that we also go into a new government elected on a vote of 37% under what must be the least democratic election system in the free world.

We are fortunate in the UK to live under a relatively benign rule, where – at least within certain limits – protest is allowed, and Magna Carta was certainly important in establishing the basis of the rule of law – at least for barons.

Site stats

In April 2015, this site, had 240,151 page views (8000 per day), with the average visitor spending 1.5 minutes on the site and looking at 2.16 pages. Site analysis for My London Diary is harder as its pages can be accessed under several domains, but taking the three I think are most popular it got 133,859 page views (just under 3,900 per day.) My other photography sites, some of which also have work by other photographers got around 110,000 views.


Another Massive Saving

Friday, June 5th, 2015

If your are a Leica addict, I can save you a small fortune by letting you into a secret. I’ve just been reading When Leica announced the M60 By Kristian Dowling on Steve Huff, an article spun on his “about an hour with the camera” on loan from one of his friends.

The big difference between the M60 and the M640, apart from the $18,500 price tag (the M240 on which it is based is a mere $6,380) is that it has no LCD on the back. It’s also made with stainless steel outer metal parts, and includes a newly designed stainless steel bodied Summulux-M 35mm f1.4 lens and a special carrying case – they designed it without strap lugs too.

The camera is a curious mixture of the practical, stripped to the basics, and the cosmetic, and as the edition of only 600 (and a few prototypes including the one that Dowling was loaned) and price indicates is clearly meant for collectors rather actual photographers.

The price difference isn’t quite as large as the figures above (based on Leica store Miami prices) would suggest, as the M240 comes without a lens, and a 35mm f1.4 will set you back $4,532 – and I suspect the lens-hood is an expensive extra. The 35mm f1.4 has never been a cheap lens – when I bought mine second-hand back around 1980 it cost the best part of a month’s wages, and the new lens-hood I finally bought last year for it (not a genuine Leica part, as they gave up making the correct fitting many years ago) cost me I think £70.

But even allowing for these, the price differential between the M60 and the M240 seems to work out at around $7,700 – or around £5000. It seems to me a lot to pay for not having a LCD screen on the back of the camera.

As a photographer who seldom looks at the LCD screen when working, I’ve never experienced the insecurity that Dowling claims to have developed, “derived from digital technology, allowing me to view images immediately after pressing the shutter button. This insecurity has led to many missed opportunities, missed moments, and ultimately – missed shots, and this results in a form of failure.”

If anything I suffer from the opposite, kicking myself at times for not having looked, for example when I find I’ve mistakenly left the exposure on manual and taken a whole hour of pictures around 6 stops under (fortunately I was rescued by having used two cameras and one of them was on P.) And there are certain situations – like the blinking problem I wrote about a few days ago – where the LCD review is so useful that I’d find my work suffered without it.

But Dowling is right to suggest that excessive viewing of images – ‘chimping’ – while working is a mistake. It breaks the vital involvement with the subject. But just because you can do it doesn’t mean that you have to and it’s a habit you can learn to avoid. I suppose when I first got a digital camera (a fat cigarette-pack sized Fuji that took not very sharp 2.2Mp images) back in 1999, I did do a lot of looking at them on the screen, but I wasn’t working with that camera, though I did take it out with me as well as the Leica on New Year’s Eve for the year-early Millennium celebrations. When I did buy a digital camera to do serious work with (a Nikon D100 in 2002) I used it more or less the same as the film cameras I was using alongside it. Mostly the first I saw the images on the camera back was when sitting on the train going home. It’s still the same now.

Fuji MX-2700 7.60mm ISO120, 1/30 f3.2 London 31/12/1999

The MX-2700 had a viewfinder, but with many digital cameras the only view is on the camera back. Optical viewfinders and the EVFs that are replacing them in many cameras leave you viewing your subject through the camera – even with a good EVF, like that on the Fuji X-T1 it still gives you the same feeling of connection with the subject. You look through a viewfinder, whereas with cameras without a viewfinder – and phones and tablets – you are always looking at something in your hand. It seems to me a very different experience, and one that – like chimping – breaks the link between you and what you are photographing.

I sometimes think of taking pictures – particularly of events – as like dancing along the street with the subject. If you keep breaking step you lose connection, lose the rhythm, lose concentration, and it will show in your images. So I’m sympathetic to an extent to the idea behind the M60, though I think it unnecessary to physically remove the LCD, and a camera without a LCD should surely cost less rather than more than twice as much.

So the short way to save that $7,700 is simply to stop yourself looking at the camera back. But if you want to ensure that you get that M60 experience (or know you are weak-willed), you can cut a rectangle of black card to the size of the LCD on your camera back, and fix it firmly in place with four strips of black masking tape. The same tape we used to use on Leicas before Leica finally realised that most photographers don’t want shiny cameras (even if this one is stainless.) It will look almost as good as the M60 and will save you enough to buy at least one more lens, even at Leica prices.

Your favourite Cliché

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

I rather enjoyed reading a post on The Online Photographer, The Worst Clichés. Of course it’s hard to avoid clichés (particularly if you are a French photographer) and sometimes its easy to feel along with Ecclesiastesthere is nothing new under the sun.” There are only 36 subjects listed in the article, although quite a few more have already been added in the readers’ comments.

I have mixed feelings about some of them (though I’d be happy never to see another cat or food picture on Facebook.) But familiar subject matter can be an incentive to find a different way to treat it. There might even be an interesting way to photograph a cat, though I doubt it.

Certainly the advice to ‘look through the viewfinder and if you’ve seen it before don’t bother to take the picture’ is generally good, if a little harsh. Back in 1964, the great graphic designer, photographer and teacher Alexey Brodovitch (1898-1971) wrote some notes for Photography magazine, which I first read when they were republished by Creative Camera in 1972.  You can read them – and much else besides – on Roy Hammans‘s great web site Photography@Weeping Ash in Alexey Brodovitch Talking, and he has much to say about clichés and what makes a good photograph.

I don’t entirely share Brodovitch’s views. As a documentary photographer, though the image is important it cannot be divorced from content. It isn’t enough for an image to be visually novel, it must also have something to say. And importantly, we can’t all be a “Tony Ray-Jones, John Benton Harris, Hiro, Lillian Bassman, Diane Arbus, Eve Arnold, Richard Avedon, Lisette Model, Gary Winogrand” (as Hammans lists some of Brodovitch’s best-known students) but we can still make images that are meaningful and worthwhile.

The Eyes Have It

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

It’s stating the obvious to say that the eyes are the most important part of any portrait, though like all such ‘rules’ there are brilliant examples to show it untrue. But it remains a good working basis – and we can’t be brilliant all the time :-), and making the kind of run-of-the-mill images of people that I do, particularly of the speakers at protests such as the Stand Up to Racism Rally certainly the first rule is to look at the eyes – and to focus on them.

Some people blink more than others, and some often speak, especially in bright sun, with their eyes closed.  Others, particularly those who read their speeches or have copious notes, spend much of their time looking down. It’s often a matter of watching them and catching the moment when they do look up, sometimes fleetingly.

I usually, but not always, photograph with my right eye. When others photograph me at work, my left eye is often screwed tight shut as I concentrate on the viewfinder with the other. But while photographing people speaking, especially when using a DSLR where only the actual image area is seen in the viewfinder, I usually keep that left eye open, so I can see the speaker as a whole. It makes it easier to catch gestures, and easier to anticipate when people might look up and open their eyes. Using the 18-105mm DX lens on the FX D800E  when you see a considerable area outside the image frame is also a help.

One great help on all digital cameras is the ability to see immediately if you have taken a picture with the subject’s eyes open. Even those with the steadiest of gazes do occasionally blink, and sometimes cameras seem to have a built in capacity to capture this. On the Nikon D700 I use Custom setting f2 to set the ‘Multi Selector Center Button’ in Playback Mode to Zoom on, High Magnification. If you have taken a picture focussing on the eyes, a simple press will show a highly magnified image centred on the focus area.

I seldom ‘chimp’ when working – for me it disrupts the flow of my work. Sometimes I find I’ve worked a whole day without looking at an image on the camera back, occasionally with unfortunate results. But photographing speakers is a something I make an exception for, checking regularly to see if I those eyes were open, as well as for the gestures and expressions I had hoped to catch. Unlike much of what I do, it is worth checking because if you have missed what you were trying to photograph, people usually repeat similar gestures and characteristic expressions.

Eyes are also often in shadow, set into the face below the forehead. With people who wear hats the problem is often worse.  Mentally we compensate for this and usually fail to notice what the camera faithfully records.  Back in the black and white darkroom days we did it with waving small cards or lumps of Blutak on thin wires above the print, or sometimes with a little ferricyanide bleach and other tricks.

I’m not sure if Reuters or the World Press Photo would approve, but I often find a little extra brightness and contrast with the Adjustment Brush in Lightroom (and sometimes some of that mysterious clarity) produces an image that seems more true to life. Occasionally it’s something I overdo.

Looking through my images from the Stand Up to Racism Rally it is the eyes that stand out, rather more than usual in my sets of pictures. But even in other sets, such as the images in Britain First Protests anti-Racist March the eyes are important, and I think play an important part  in how we read the images of these racists in their forest of Union flags. Somehow it seemed appropriate that they were standing in front of Lilywhites.


Stand Up to Racism

Monday, June 1st, 2015

How do I – and other photographers – decide what to photograph? It’s a question I often ask myself when covering events, and although there is no list of rules, there are certainly some things that I bear in mind.

Foremost is that I will only photograph things that interest me. I’m in the fortunate position never to have to take a photograph simply because I think it will sell.

Not that I’m rich and don’t need money, but in the past I earned enough to live on from teaching and now I could get by on my pension (and my wife’s) and my needs are relatively small, having long since paid off my mortgage.  So I don’t need to cover the kind of events – or take the kind of pictures – that are most likely to sell. I’m happy to leave those to colleagues who might enjoy them more and who need the money more than me.

This affects both which events I chose to attend, and also often the type of pictures that I take.  Although I’ve taken some reasonable images of fairly well-known people that have been published, I don’t go out of my way to photograph celebrities. There are quite a few I don’t recognise in any case, and when I’m standing around talking with other photographers and they name one, I’ve often never heard of them.

At protests, there are some people who stand out for various reasons. Turquoise hair might well be one of them, but for me it’s important to relate them to the event. I would have been happier with the image above if I could read more of the placard the woman in it was holding.

Having taken the first image using a short telephoto (99mm equiv) from a little distance through a crowd I realised immediately it wasn’t quite what I wanted. Although I don’t pose people, I often like them to be aware that I’m taking their picture and with the 16mm I was quite close, and they have posed for me, with two placards that clearly spell out the main issues of the protest.

I could perhaps have framed a little more tightly, but I liked having a recognisable part of All Souls Langham Place in the background, a church with close connections to the neighbouring BBC, though how many people would recognise it is perhaps debatable.

As well as taking pictures that relate to the event, its also important to me to try and give a fair and accurate representation of the event. Although it’s usually important to photograph what is at the front of a march, I always try to work my way through the whole of it (though a few are too large to allow this.)

I seldom photograph banners and groups head on from the centre. I find such pictures rather boring, and always prefer to work from some way to the side unless there is a good reason to do otherwise. I’d also prefer the people to be actually marching, but sometimes this isn’t possible – and here they are standing still. I wanted to get the iconic Broadcasting House in the background, and would have liked to take this picture from rather further back with a longer lens to make it seem larger, but unfortunately there were probably at least 50 people taking pictures in the way.

Unfortunately the stewarding on many marches make it difficult to photograph the front of the march once it is moving, but things are usually easier a little way back. Though if a march is tightly packed it is often hard to get enough clear space to photograph banners. Again an approach from the side is usually easier, though it may make it hard to read the banners.

The start of the march is a ‘key moment’ and one I usually try to photograph along with other key moments in the event. There is I think an important difference between key moments and the kind of pictures that make the news; key moments are those that tell the story, while news images are often quite peripheral. Five thousand people may march peacefully but if one idiot attacks a policeman, for most newspapers that is the story and the picture they want. If I see something sensational in this way I’ll usually photograph it, but that isn’t what I’m looking for (and sometimes I have decided not to photograph such things or not to file them where I felt they misrepresented the event.)

This event was called ‘Stand Up To Racism’ and for me it was important to show the wide range of people taking part, including many from London’s many ethnic communities. As well as those key moments I’m also trying to build up a picture of the event, to tell its story.

Part of that story is the people who are taking part, and I try to show the whole range, though those that look in some way more interesting in some way are more likely to appear in my pictures. As too are any well-known people taking part, who in this case included Peter Tatchell and several others.

And for many events, placards, posters and banners are vital, and it’s important to frame them so that they are legible. Occasionally I’ll deliberately cut one off part way across, though if so I try to leave enough to make it possible for the reader to work out the text. More often I’ll carefully position the frame and zoom to leave them ending close to the edges – as in the image of Peter Tatchell.

Apologies for rambling on, partly because I wrote this over a busy couple of days. But as you look at the pictures in Stand Up to Racism March I hope it helps to make clear why I took them as they are.